Spooky, inventive, funny, maybe a tad didactic or cloying here and there, Winterson’s mixed bag of fictional treats has a...

CHRISTMAS DAYS

12 STORIES AND 12 FEASTS FOR 12 DAYS

Ghosts, fairies, self-revelation, and friendly seasonal recipes give this collection a potentially wide-ranging appeal for readers as well as gift shoppers.

Winterson (The Gap of Time, 2015, etc.), the versatile British writer, has gathered 12 Yule-themed stories in a book laced with bits of autobiography both in the introduction—a handy guide to the history of Christmas—and in the dishes she describes after each tale. She is especially good with the supernatural, using eerie and magical elements in ways that hark back to Poe and Dickens. In “Spirit of Christmas,” a child trapped in “BUYBUYBABY, the world’s biggest department store,” helps a couple shed their materialism. “Christmas in New York” has an O. Henry feel as its hero discovers the explanations behind the magic that cures his misanthropy. Apparitions, strange noises, a madman, a kitchen knife, and a Stephen King–ish turn near the end—all these make “Dark Christmas” very dark indeed. “The Snowmama” brings some entertaining playfulness and silly puns (soul becomes Snowl) to the living-snowman idea. “The Silver Frog,” with suggestions of Oliver Twist and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, arranges a plague of magic silver frogs to deal with the meanie heading an orphanage. The story stands in counterpoint to the author’s laconic “I am adopted and it didn’t go well.” Winterson’s prose is often witty and sometimes lyrical, as in this description of Bethlehem before the first Christmas in the quite wonderful “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me”: “a musty, rusty, fusty pudding of a town…its people cussed and blustering.” The recipes seem doable and appetizing and come with intriguing glimpses of the writer, her friends, and their Christmas rituals.

Spooky, inventive, funny, maybe a tad didactic or cloying here and there, Winterson’s mixed bag of fictional treats has a 19th-century charm much needed in the grim 21st.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2583-5

Page Count: 305

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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